Clark was nominated for his first Oscar for his role as Peter Warne in It Happened One Night. On Wednesday, February 27, 1935, he attended the ceremony at the Biltmore Hotel begrudgingly, certain he would not win. It was much to his surprise that he did–beating out William Powell for The Thin Man and Frank Morgan for The Affairs of Cellini.
The Oscar was presented to him by host Irvin S. Cobb.
The film was nominated for a total of five Oscars and won every one of them: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Writing, Adaptation. It stands as the first picture to sweep all the major awards (supporting actor awards were not given out at that time). Since then, only two other films have repeated that feat.
Clark was also nominated in 1936 for Mutiny on the Bounty but lost to Victor McLaglen for The Informer. Clark had been nominated as Best Actor alongside his costars Franchot Tone and Charles Laughton. Because of the awkwardness of having three actors from the same film compete for the same award, the idea for Best Supporting categories was hatched and they were presented for the first time the following year.
Clark’s third and final nomination was in 1940 for Gone with the Wind. Despite the film breaking all records and walking off with eleven total awards, Clark lost to Richard Donat for Goodbye, Mr. Chips in what was considered a huge upset. It was leaked out later that Clark had in fact come in third, after James Stewart for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Contrary to popular belief, Clark did not attend the 1940 Academy Awards.
Clark’s only Oscar now resides in the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences Library, having been purchased at auction in 1996 by Steven Spielberg for $607,500. Clark’s son and only heir, John Clark, put the Oscar up for auction at Christie’s in Los Angeles. The Academy tried to bar the sale, producing a document Clark signed that stated that if he ever wanted to sell it, he had to offer it to the Academy for $10 first. A judge ruled that the document was forged (the Academy maintains that it was not) and cleared the way for the Oscar to be auctioned. At the time, the winner was anonymous. It wasn’t until Spielberg stepped up and donated the award back to the Academy that his identity was revealed. “I could think of no better sanctuary for Gable’s only Oscar than the Motion Picture Academy,” Spielberg said in a statement. “The Oscar statuette is the most personal recognition of good work our industry can ever bestow, and it strikes me as a sad sign of our times that this icon could be confused with a commercial treasure.”
Ironically, Spielberg’s winning bid of $607,500 set a Christie’s auction record that was previously held by the $563,500 winning bid for Vivien Leigh’s Best Actress Oscar for Gone with the Wind in 1993.
1959 Best Actor Muscial/Comedy for Teacher’s Pet
(lost to Danny Kaye, Me and the Colonel)
1960 Best Actor Musical/Comedy for But Not For Me
(lost to Jack Lemmon, Some Like It Hot)
1958 Top Male Comedy Performance for Teacher’s Pet
(3rd place to Glenn Ford, Don’t Go Near the Water; Jack Lemmon, Operation Mad Ball)